Ford Madox Ford
So I’d been meaning to read this book for a while now after watching the TV adaptation starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall a couple of years ago. I was intrigued as how the book would play out and how true the series was. For me, the good points were finding out in more detail about the characters, understanding the plot and relationships a little better though there are some parts in the book that are not shown in the TV series which in the book added to the story. That being said the TV adaptation was brilliant and did follow the book well and to have made it contain everything it would have had to be a 10-15 part series not just a 5 part series.
The bad parts was that although it was well written and the story is good and very well illustrated and thought out, I did find the book hard to read at times. The older language used, the vocabulary that on certain occasions I had no idea what the words meant and the very long pieces of description and backstory coupled with the flitting about of time from the present to the past to flashbacks in time while something else was happening all got a little confusing. For that reason it took me an age to read this book as I just had to put it down some nights due to being too confused and losing interest.
The book in over 900 pages long and I don’t think I’ve read a book that long since ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ by John Le Carre a couple of years ago so maybe my attention span is not as good as it was but the slower pace of the book is definitely something I’m not as used to. The story revolves around Christopher Teitjens, a very proper middle to upper class gentleman who works as a statistician for the Government though he is a wealthy landowner from the North of England. The whole story is set between 1912 and 1918 and goes through the changes the country and the upper/middle classes face over the course of the war on their lifestyle from a life of luxury to losing everything unless you are ruthless. Teitjens is married to his unloving wife, Sylvia, who bore him a child though it may not be his. She is a strong willed woman who at times I liked [when she occasionally showed true compassion and her love for Teitjens], at times I hated and at times I admired. The other main character is Valentine Wannop, a pacifist and suffragette and the daughter of Teitjens’ father’s best friend. They meet by chance during an altercation on a golf course and from then she is the girl Christopher ultimately falls in love with and she falls in love with him. For years, though the love is there they never act on it or admit it to each other though they are both accused of a relationship by many. Christopher goes to war, gets blown up, loses his money, loses his wife, gets sent back to the frontline, loses his mind but makes it back to London at the end of the war and sets about to live with Valentine though he has not spoken to her for two years.
It is a tale of love, hate and the strength and power of women and their hold over men, a refreshing concept from a male author writing in the 1920’s. I did enjoy the book and the storytelling and Madox Ford’s writing, description and storytelling is superb though a little long-winded. Maybe that is the curse of the modern day though where everything happens at a much quicker pace. All in all I would say that this book is worth a read especially if you watched the TV series but be prepared to have to stick at it and read a great mammoth of early 20th century literature.
Note: after further research it seems this is actually a set of 4 books and the book I have has mashed them all into one, maybe if I’d figured this out before I would have understood why it was so long!